Project Team: James T. Van Leuven, Emma Altman

The microbial communities colonizing animal guts are highly influential to host health and development. Animal hosts are impacted by the species of microbes present and temporal changes in their abundances, but the forces governing these dynamics are poorly understood. Bacteriophages modulate bacterial community composition through predation. They also facilitate horizontal gene transfer, stimulate the immune systems of animals, and can be used to fight antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections. The inclusion of bacteriophages in microbial ecosystem models and testing of these models is critical to understand how these viruses contribute to microbial community dynamics and evolution, and ultimately, to host health.

The goal of the proposed research is to test the molecular, ecological, and evolutionary roles of bacteriophages in host-associated microbial communities using honey bees and their associated gut bacteria. We will modify and apply models of microbial community dynamics to time-series data collected on bee microbiota and then test these models by perturbing bee microbiomes. This project will benefit from collaborative research across institutions and will boost interdepartmental research at University of Idaho.